The man convicted of killing a man over a dice game will serve up to 57 years in prison, though his lawyers say they will appeal the conviction.
Justin D. Vaughn, 25, was convicted in June of shooting Demetrius C. Lucas, 30, after an argument over a dice game during Vaughn’s birthday party. On Feb. 5, 2014, Alton police were called to the Storey Manor Apartment Complex in Cottage Hills on reports of shots fired. Lucas had been shot twice and was already on his way to Alton Memorial Hospital. He later died at a St. Louis-area hospital.
Prosecutors argued Vaughn shot Lucas deliberately, while defense attorneys argued that Vaughn was acting in self-defense. Four days into the trial, Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli denied a defense motion that would allow the jurors to consider self-defense in their deliberations.
The jury deliberated for less than 90 minutes before returning guilty verdicts on first-degree murder and unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon, Class M and Class 2 felonies respectively. Vaughn had previous felony convictions from 2011 on mob action and unlawful restraint.
On Monday, Tognarelli sentenced Vaughn for up to 57 years in prison.
Defense attorney Rob Bas had petitioned for a new trial, stating he respectfully disagreed with Tognarelli’s trial decisions to disallow the self-defense argument and that the prosecution made statements during jury selection that tainted the jury pool, as well as issues about evidence discovery. Tognarelli denied the motions. Later, Bas said they intend to file appeals based on several of the issues raised in their motions.
Vaughn directed his only statement at Lucas’ mother. “I never intended to kill your son,” he said. “I just wanted your son to leave my house... I never meant for this to happen. I pray for your forgiveness.”
The murder conviction carried a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison, and because he used a firearm, he was eligible for another 25-year extension. As he has previous felony convictions, he also could have been sentenced to life in prison. The gun conviction carried three to seven years in prison.
The prosecution asked for the maximum on all charges, arguing that Vaughn was already a felon who has never earned a paycheck and was likely to re-offend.
“(Demetrius Lucas) was a father, a son, a nephew and a cousin,” Assistant State’s Attorney Crystal Uhe said. “No amount of time given to Justin will bring their loved one back… This reoccurring theme of using guns to resolve petty disagreements of this… will never be tolerated.”
Bas argued that the case was entirely about why Vaughn shot Lucas. “Things got out of control,” he said. “His concern truly was the safety of his household.” He pointed out that there were nine letters of character reference from Vaughn in support of a shorter sentence, and that he was working for cash jobs to support his family.
Tognarelli sentenced Vaughn to 50 years in prison on the murder charge, of which he will have to serve 100 percent. In addition, he sentenced Vaughn to seven years on the weapons charge that must be served consecutively, but he may only serve half of that. He will have to be on probation for three years after release.
Uhe called it a “fair and appropriate” sentence. Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said he hoped the sentence provided Lucas’ family with closure. “With this lengthy prison sentence, we have successfully removed a violent man from our community,” Gibbons said. “(The jury’s) swift conviction of Vaughn shows that violence will not be tolerated in Madison County.”
Lucas’ aunt, Allene Lucas, read a statement from the family in a soft voice. “What you have done has hurt our whole family,” she said. “They called (Lucas) wild, and he was wild, but he wasn’t violent.”
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2507.